Burma Business Roundup (Monday, April 16)

By William Boot 16 April 2012

UK Trade Group Pose as Tourists to Skip Sanctions

A British business delegation is posing as tourists on a brief visit to Burma with Prime Minister David Cameron—to avoid being victims of European Union sanctions.

Cameron’s London office confirmed this week that he will make a hastily arranged stop in Burma to meet President Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi at the end of an Asian trade promotion tour which has included Japan and Indonesia.

The business delegation which has been accompanying Cameron to promote Britain is more than 30 strong, with representatives from construction, energy and defense including BAE Systems.

Cameron’s office told The Guardian newspaper it would be technically illegal under EU economic sanctions for the trade team to promote business with Burma.

Ironically, Britain is one of the hardline countries which has until now opposed easing sanctions until more reforms taken place.

The Guardian quoted an unnamed Cameron office spokesman saying, “It is not a trade mission. We are going to Burma for reasons of geography and the recent elections which led to a positive outcome. The government policy on Burma is to discourage trade. That remains the case. Around 10 members of the business delegation will come to Burma. They will have a cultural programme. They will be like tourists.”

While in Indonesia, where he signed agreements for the supply of passenger planes, Cameron said, “I want to link Britain up to the fastest growing parts of the world, because we need to trade and export our way out of our economic difficulties.”

The British group were due Friday the 13th—regarded in British folklore as a bad luck day.

Elections May Trigger Backlash, says Risk Firm

Business risk assessors Maplecroft in its latest study of reform trends in Burma says the results of the parliamentary elections earlier this month “provide a clear indicator that reformist forces within the government are presently prevailing over hardliners.”

But the UK company says the success of the National League for Democracy was not big enough to lead to any power shift in government leadership.

It said the results show “the extent to which the opposition enjoys the support of a large number of Burmese” and to that extent are a good indicator of possible trends in the country.

However, Maplecroft warns that the country’s Parliament is still controlled by the military, among whom lurk forces opposed to reform.

“The extent of the NLD’s electoral success may have alarmed hardliners in the military and consequently there is the danger that the election will trigger any anti-reform backlash,” Maplecroft said on April 10.

US $200m Pledged at Chinese Trade Show

Business investments worth US $200 million were pledged at a Chinese trade exhibition held in Rangoon, as well as other trade deals valued at more than $100 million, according to the official news agency Xinhua.

The agreements were struck during the trade show put on by China’s southern Guangxi Province at the beginning of this month.

Guangxi, a semi-autonomous region of China adjacent to the major industrial south coast province of Guangdong, has been stepping up trade with Burma in the last year.

Two-way trade was worth around $56 million in 2011 which, although small, was a 200 percent increase on 2010, Xinhua quoted trade show officials saying.

The latest deals involve the supply of construction and agricultural equipment. But the show featured products including vehicle parts, textiles and foodstuffs.

Petronas Deal with Burmese UNOG in Gas Hunt

The Malaysian state oil company Petronas has agreed on a joint venture partnership with a Burmese-owned private firm to explore for gas in two onshore blocks.

Petronas was one of several foreign firms awarded exploration licenses by the Energy Ministry earlier this year, but on condition they involve local partners.

The Malaysians will work with UNOG Pte Ltd to probe the blocks in the Irrawaddy River valley region west of Naypyidaw.

The blocks have been given the industry tags RSF-2 and RSF-3.

A third silent partner in the project is Burma’s government owned MOGE, the Myanmar Oil & Gas Enterprise.

UNOG is registered in Singapore but is run from Burma and oil industry lists name Win Kyaing as managing director. He is also linked to another firm called IGE.

UNOG has been working on MOGE-awarded oil and gas contracts since 2007.

Rangoon Revival as Model Regional City

Plans are being drafted by several government ministries and Burma’s architects association for the redevelopment of Rangoon, making the central business district the focal point of renewal.

Government departments responsible for construction, science and electrical power, plus the Association of Myanmar Architects and the Myanmar Engineering Society are involved in the preliminary planning, according to the Myanmar Times, quoting a leading architect.

Key elements of a long-term redevelopment plan for Rangoon should be a revitalized central business district, parks and other green spaces, ring roads to cope with increased traffic, and a better public transport system, the paper quoted the vice-chairman of the Association of Myanmar Architects, Sun Oo, as saying.

Some participants in the discussions have said long-term planning models are needed based on a detailed survey of the present state of the city and its likely needs under a revived national economy.

“I don’t see that developers or planners are thinking of the long term, where the population will increase and pressure will build on streets and car parking,” Sun Oo told the paper. “Town planning cannot be effective if we look only at the short term.”